Flappy Bird Arrives, and Swift is Officially a Serious Programming Language

Flappy BirdIn the world of computer languages, maybe the most famous program of them all is “Hello world“–the code which displays that two-word greeting. You can write it on the first day you learn a new language, and it’s often used to verify that the system is working properly.

Maybe we should formally declare Flappy Bird to be a sort of more ambitious version of “Hello world.”

Yesterday, Apple startled attendees at its WWDC keynote by announcing that a new language, Swift, would replace Objective-C as the way to write apps for iOS devices. And within hours, someone had implemented Flappy Bird in Swift. (This version is officially called FlappySwift, and I learned about it from the Twitter feed of Apple’s Chris Espinosa.)

When Flappy Bird first became wildly popular a few months ago, I assumed that it was the very definition of a flash in the pan–something which would obsess the world for a brief period, and then disappear. But even though its creator, Nguyen Ha Dong, yanked it off of Apple and Google’s app stores, it’s still burbling around in the world’s subconscious. (Of course, the yanking only served to raise the game’s profile.)

Could Flappy Bird turn out to be like Pac Man: a fad which was huge, then subsided, but never really vanished from the culture? If the children of 2024 can identify Flappy at a glance, we’ll know that the little guy isn’t going anywhere.


The Best Parts of Apple’s WWDC 2014 Keynote Sailed Right Over the Heads of Consumers. Good!

Tim Cook

Tim Cook wraps up an unusually dense WWDC keynote

If you were Apple, and you were trying to construct a WWDC keynote with the principal aim of whipping consumers into a frenzy, you’d make sure it was about sexy new devices, first and foremost–and ideally devices in the new categories which so many people are assuming the company will soon enter. You’d want to show off products so obviously lustworthy that folks couldn’t wait to get their hands on them, and then have them in stock at the Apple Store as soon as possible.

Here’s what you probably wouldn’t do: Skip hardware altogether in your keynote in favor of software, with a presentation that got more and more technical and abstract as it went along, until a person quite literally needed to be an engineer to understand it.

But the thing is, anyone who’s paying attention already knows that the primary aim of a WWDC keynote is to get software developers excited about the future of Apple’s platforms–maybe now more than ever, given the widespread (albeit silly) received wisdom that Android has defeated iOS.

iOS 8's new Photos on an iPad and an iPhone

iOS 8’s new Photos on an iPad and an iPhone

So nobody should have been startled by the fact that the WWDC 2014 keynote did not involve an iWatch, an Apple HDTV, a Retina MacBook Air, or, as it turned out, any new hardware whatsoever. Tim Cook, software honcho Craig Federighi and company talked only about operating systems and related matters–and after the preview of OS X Yosemite and the first part of the discussion of iOS 8, they spoke only to developers, developers, developers.

Even without the developer-focused crescendo, the keynote included plenty of news about features which will make Macs, iPhones and iPads more useful. Much of it involved Apple’s versions of features which have existed in Android and/or in other companies’ apps and services for years, such as:

  • iCloud Drive (file-storage features similar to Dropbox and OneDrive);
  • Features which make iCloud a repository for all your photos rather than just temporary storage for recent pictures;
  • Both predictive typing in iOS’s standard keyboard and the ability to install third-party keyboards such as SwiftKey and Swype;
  • New iMessage features reminiscent of WhatsApp and SnapChat;
  • The ability to wake Siri by saying “Hey Siri,” much like Android’s use of “OK Google.”

Apple won’t win any awards for pure creativity for any of these updates, but that doesn’t make them less useful; some of the most important features an operating system can add are the ones which are overdue. And in some instances, Apple’s take on existing concepts does look innovative–such as Continuity, a suite of features designed to let you use a Mac and iOS device together, including the ability to use a Mac as a speakerphone for an iPhone.

Then there were two much-rumored iOS additions: Health (the app we thought was going to be named Healthbook) and new home-automation features known as HomeKit. Both are potentially huge deals, but got explained only in elevator-pitch form. We simply need more information before we can come to any firm conclusions about them.

If Health and HomeKit got short shrift, it was to free up more room in a very dense keynote for discussion of other new developer tools, most of which are closer to iOS’s core than health and home automation are:

  • Extensibility is a framework which allows apps to talk to each other, opening up opportunities for integration at least vaguely akin to those offered by a technology called AppLinks which Facebook is spearheading. It will also let third-party developers insert full-blown widgets into the Notification Center, giving Apple devices a long-awaited answer to the widgets which have long been a defining feature of Android;
  • CloudKit provides developers with tools for hosting apps and data on Apple’s iCloud platform, taking the company into territory currently ruled by Amazon Web Services and Microsoft’s Azure.
  • Metal lets games leverage the power of Apple’s A7 processor with as little overhead as possible.

The last announcement at the keynote–unquestionably the “one more thing,” though nobody called it that explicitly–was a new programming language called Swift. No consumer will ever see Swift, and few will even know what it is. But if it lives up to Apple’s sales pitch for it, it’s a sea change–a modern way to create iOS apps that’s designed to be faster, more powerful and more approachable than Objective-C, iOS’s current language.

When I talk to app developers, they have no problem finding things about the iOS ecosystem to praise, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of them list Objective-C as a plus for the platform. Instead, its learning curve is often mentioned as an obstacle. And as the Apple executives onstage showed off Swift –including some features which I cheerfully acknowledge I didn’t comprehend–the engineers in the audience went wild.

I do know enough about software development to understand that the news which Apple announced today is going to make iOS a much richer development platform. Apple isn’t dismantling the sandboxing which limits what apps can do without permission, thereby making it tougher for buggy ones to screw up your phone or malware to do intentional damage to your data or privacy. But it’s giving developers the ability to build experiences which don’t feel constrained in the way that iOS apps sometimes do.

Once that happens, people who own Apple hardware will reap the rewards of WWDC 2014. Including the ones who caught the livestream of the keynote and considered it to be a snoozefest.

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Time For Some TWiT

I had fun spending my Sunday afternoon guesting on This Week in Tech–with guest host Mike Elgan, Cnet’s Lindsey Turrentine and Katie Benner of The Information. We talked about a dizzying array of stuff: WWDC, Google self-driving cars, NSA facial recognition, Glenn Greenwald’s book, Android TV, Amazon vs. Hachette, the right to erase bad stuff from the Web, and–oh yeah–this new independent version of Technologizer.

Here’s the show:

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WWDC 2014 Live Coverage: Come Join Me on Twitter

In many cases, the only way to learn what Apple is announcing at a media event in real time is to read liveblogs or Twitter. This time around, for the WWDC keynote on Monday morning, the company is doing a live webcast–so in theory, you don’t need someone like me.

Still, I’ll be in the audience at Moscone West at 10am PDT on Monday to share news and insta-reactions. I’ve decided to do my live coverage over on Twitter, and will report back here with future thoughts once I’ve had at least a few fleeting moments to reflect on whatever gets announced.

See you on Twitter in the morning–and then again back here, I hope.

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A Decade’s Worth of WWDC Keynotes

...and why they're the most misunderstood Apple events of all

WWDC 2014Once a year, Apple kicks off its World Wide Developer Conference with a keynote presentation, such as the one coming up on Monday, which I’ll be covering for Technologizer. Many people seem to think they’re famous for involving Apple dazzling consumers with an array of new products, to the rapturous approval of everybody involved.

Which is weird, because that’s not the point at all.

Sure, consumers are watching, and Apple hopes that they’re dazzled. But WWDC keynotes are usually the least gadget-centric events which Apple holds, and even though people who covet new Apple products pay close attention, they’re not the primary audience.

Here’s the truth about WWDC keynotes:

  • The fact that they’re part of a conference devoted to informing developers about Apple’s platforms means that the emphasis will be on software–particularly operating systems–and the odds of a radically new hardware product being announced are just about nil;
  • Since epoch-shifting hardware is out of the picture, any devices which do get announced are, by definition, only incrementally superior to their predecessors;
  • No matter how newsy the keynote is, some people–especially ones who were hoping for something extremely specific which didn’t get announced–will deem it a snoozefest;
  • There’s a very good chance that Apple’s stock will fall in the wake of the keynote, presumably indicating that Wall Steeet was not instantly impressed.

Now, I’m a WWDC keynote fan myself–there’s nothing more important to hardware than the software which it runs, so the focus on operating systems and apps makes these events more interesting to me, not less so. But as we gird ourselves for Monday, it might help to calibrate expectations if we review the last ten years of WWDC keynotes.

So without any further ado…


WWDC 2005Keynote date: June 28; full video here

Major news: OS X 10.4 Tiger, iTunes 4.9, new Cinema Displays

Snap judgment:A totally boring keynote. A few interesting items in Tiger — but otherwise, Apple continues to disappoint in 2004.”–Macrumors forum member Numediaman

Impact on Apple stock price: Down .03 to $16.25


WWDC 2005Keynote date: June 6; full video here

Major news: An unusual WWDC which focused–after the opening stats and updates–on one gigantic piece of news, the Mac’s move from PowerPC processors to Intel ones

Snap judgment: “We believe the move is risky for Apple. By switching to a more mass market processor, Apple likely risks diluting its value proposition as it has less control over the product road map.”–Prudential Equity Group analyst Steven Fortuna

Impact on Apple stock price: Down .84 percent to $37.95


WWDC 2006Keynote date: August 7; full video here

Major news: Introduction of the Mac Pro desktop; preview of OS X 10.5 Leopard

Snap judgment:The sneak preview of Leopard was underwhelming. For what seemed an interminable time, Jobs and Co. showed off one yawn after another. There’s no way I can get excited about virtual desktops or a new service that turns highlighted text into a “to do” item. Oooo.”–Leander Kahney, Wired

Impact on Apple stock price: Down 3.6 percent to $64.78


WWDC 2007Keynote date: June 11; full video here

Major news: Web “apps” for the iPhone (which didn’t yet offer true third-party apps); further preview of Leopard, which was being delayed; Safari browser for Windows

Snap judgment:Unless you’re particularly into games or operating system software, today’s WWDC announcements were probably a bit of a snooze-fest. I don’t know about you, but I’m a hardware guy. Hardware is tangible, tactile and there’s an emotional component to hardware that I don’t get from software – but that’s me.”–Jason D. O’Grady, ZDNet

Impact on Apple stock price: Up .16 percent to $120.38


WWDC 2008Keynote date: June 9; full video here

Major news: iPhone 3G; OS 10.6 Snow Leopard; MobileMe service; more details on the iPhone OS SDK and App Store, which had been announced at an event in March

Snap judgment:If you expected startling news to come out of Monday’s keynote for Apple’s World-Wide Developers Conference (WWDC)–headlined, of course, by Steve Jobs–you went away unstartled and disappointed.”–Harry McCracken (hey, that’s me!), PC World

Impact on Apple stock price: Up 2.2 percent to $185.64


WWDC 2009Keynote date: June 8; full video here

Major news: iPhone 3GS; demos of iPhone OS 3.0 and Snow Leopard, which had already been shown; new 13″ MacBook Pro

Snap judgment:Wow, there’s two hours of my life that I won’t get back anytime soon. Today’s epic bore of a keynote address at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference signals the problem that Steve Jobs has created as the designated showman/face of Apple. Jobs’ rampant control issues and megalomania are so acute that everyone else who works for him sounds like they’ve never had to address the family dinner table, much less the assembled throng of thousands of Apple developers and the untold millions of fanboys refreshing liveblogs around the world.”–David Lidsky (commenting on a keynote hosted by Phil Schiller during Steve Jobs’s medical leave), Fast Company

Impact on Apple stock price: Down .79 percent to $142.72


WWDC 2010Keynote date: June 7; full video here

Major news: iPhone 4 (the model whose thunder Gizmodo had stolen in April) ; iPhone OS being renamed iOS; FaceTime; iMovie for iOS

Snap judgment:But despite all of [Steve Jobs’] showmanship and a very impressive new product, the keynote wasn’t quite the game changer that I expected. I don’t mean to say I found the iPhone 4 to be disappointing — it will be incredibly successful, and many of my friends are champing at the bit to get one. But I expected to walk out of San Francisco’s Moscone Center yesterday longing for the next iPhone despite my current allegiance to Android. That didn’t happen.”–Jason Kincaid of TechCrunch, giving the closest thing I could find to a negative spin on a keynote that was unusually well received

Impact on Apple stock price: Down .64 percent to $249.33


WWDC 2011Keynote date: June 6; full video here

Major news: iOS 5; OS X 10.7 Lion; iCloud

Snap judgment:Probably spoiled by Apple’s way of bringing new and innovative ideas to the table each year, I was hoping for something revolutionary, something that would rock my iOS-loving, iPhone-hugging world. Sadly all I saw were minor changes, most of which were already available one way or another.”–Johnny, GSMArena

Impact on Apple stock price: Down 1.8 percent to $332.04


WWDC 2012Keynote date: June 11; full video here

Major news: iOS 6; OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion; 15″ MacBook Pro with Retina display; MacBook Airs with new processors

Snap judgment: “Maybe Steve Jobs set the innovation bar too high, but Apple users have become accustomed to stunning new product announcements and introductions. That didn’t happen at WWDC12. Instead, business users were treated to a nicely redesigned MacBook Pro and promises of great new products (Mountain Lion and iOS 6) to come.”–Erik Eckel, TechRepublic

Impact on Apple stock price: Up .87 percent to $576.16


WWDC 2013Keynote date: June 10; full video here

Major news: iOS 7; iOS 10.9 Mavericks; preview of all-new Mac Pro; updated MacBook Airs; iTunes Radio

Snap judgment: “To be direct, Apple had a shot at regaining its ‘mojo’ just by announcing the next amazing new product to come down the road today. Hopes of an iWatch, iTV, and a low-priced iPhone for the emerging markets, were dashed in one unimpressive display of face lifting, rather than innovation.”–Regarded Solutions, Seeking Alpha

Impact on Apple stock price: Down .29 percent to $437.60

With all of the above in mind, here are my official WWDC 2014 predictions:

  • Apple is going to focus on software;
  • Some people will complain about the fact that Apple focused on hardware, and criticize it for not unveiling something like an iWatch;
  • Whatever Apple does announce won’t result in a massive run-up on its stock.

And those are the only predictions I’m making. See you on Monday: I’m going to live-tweet the event as it happens, and then follow up here with further thoughts after it’s over and all is known.


The Land Beyond TIME

Welcome to Technologizer—version 3.0.
Daily Show

Jon Stewart furrows his brow at a TIME cover story which I wrote with my colleague Lev Grossman

Twenty-five months ago, I became an editor at large at TIME.  I’m awfully glad I did.

The gig gave me the opportunity to work with smart people and write everything from splashy print and online features to product reviews to pieceslots of them–which I did mostly because I found something fascinating and thought other folks would, too.

My work also let me interview people like Larry Page, Jeff Bezos, Phil Schiller, and Jack Dorsey and took me to some memorable places such as the offices of Minecraft’s creators in Stockholm and the hallowed Time & Life Building in New York–and, of course, to the never-ending supply of Bay Area tech startups, many of which are within walking distance of TIME’s San Francisco bureau.

It was an honor to contribute to something which has meant as much to me for as long as TIME has, and I’ll cherish the memories forever. But I recently decided it was time to change things up. Friday was my last day at Time Inc.

And here I am again at Technologizer, which I started in 2008. During my time at TIME, it was part of TIME.com. Now it–and I–are independent again.

Old Technologizer

Technologizer as it appeared way, way back in 2009

This version of Technologizer will be a bit different from both the TIME.com incarnation and the first stand-alone one. I plan to focus even more on slow-cooked insight and spend less time frantically cranking out brief stories on the news of the moment. But over on the right-hand side you’ll find TechReads, where I’ll share worthwhile stuff as I read it. Consider it my own dinky version of Techmeme.

Not that I planned it this way, but I’m rebooting this site on the cusp of what should be an eventful month for technology products. Apple’s WWDC keynote is this Monday, Samsung is holding a Galaxy Tab launch in New York on June 12, and Google’s IO conference on June 25-26. I’ll be at all of ’em, and am looking forward to writing about them here.

Up at the top of each page, you’ll find icons which will whisk you to some of the other outposts of the vast Technologizer media empire: our Facebook page; my own accounts on TwitterGoogle+ and Instagram; a Flipboard magazine where I’ll share everything I publish here; and our full-text RSS feed.

One other thing about this new version of Technologizer: I don’t expect that it’ll be my full-time occupation indefinitely. Stay tuned for more news, and thanks for hanging out with me.